Riverside Co. man sues Trader Joe’s alleging he was fired after requesting COVID vaccine religious accommodation

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A former Riverside County Trader Joe’s employee has filed a federal lawsuit against the company alleging his civil rights were violated when he was fired after requesting a religious accommodation exempting him from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Gregg Crawford worked at Trader Joe’s for 26 years and was a manager at a Rancho Cucamonga location, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The lawsuit says that Trader Joe’s mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for store managers in July, and Crawford requested an accommodation because of his religious beliefs as a “devout evangelical Christian” who “believes the Bible is the living word of God.” His lawyers say the Monrovia-based grocery company granted his request for accommodation.

The complaint filed in Crawford’s case does not describe what aspect of his religion is the basis for his opposition to vaccination.

Despite his having been granted the religious accommodation, Crawford was told that only vaccinated employees would be allowed to attend a required meeting in August and that skipping it “was going to negatively affect his performance review,” the complaint alleges.

Crawford’s lawyer then sent a letter to Trader Joe’s saying that it was discriminatory to block Crawford from the meeting because he was not vaccinated — and suggested he attend either in person after getting tested for the virus, or via Zoom.

Crawford then got an email from Trader Joe’s general counsel saying that he would get a summary of the relevant information from the meeting and that his vaccination status wouldn’t be the basis for any negative performance evaluation, according to the lawsuit.

Some time later, Crawford was told he was being fired from Trader Joe’s because he had stopped communicating with his regional vice president, disregarded the company’s “Open Door Policy” and approached the issue from an “adversarial perspective,” and also acted in conflict with the interests of the company, the lawsuit alleges.

KTLA reached out to Trader Joe’s for comment and to confirm the details of the case, but has not heard back as of Friday afternoon.

“Trader Joe’s retaliated against plaintiff for consulting an attorney because he felt he was being discriminated against for his religious beliefs,” attorneys say in the lawsuit.

“Mr. Crawford’s religious beliefs were a motivating factor in his termination,” the complaint continues.

The lawsuit was filed on Crawford’s behalf by the Sacramento-based nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute, a firm that specializes in the defense of religious freedom and says it provides legal guidance on COVID-19 mandates — which the organization’s website describes as being “unreasonable and impede on the religious rights of individuals who sincerely believe that getting vaccinated would violate their conscience.”

“Trader Joe’s mandate that employees inject themselves with experimental vaccines while building an empire on giving customers natural, healthy options is hypocritical,” Brad Dacus, president of the institute, said in a statement. “COVID-19 has not suspended the obligations of employers under federal and state law to take seriously and accommodate employees with religious objections.”

Health authorities have repeatedly stressed that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, and that they underwent testing in tens of thousands of people to establish safety and effectiveness against the virus. 

And while COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. were initially rolled out under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has already received full approval.

Religious objections are becoming a much more widely used loophole against the COVID-19 shot, and the number is only likely to grow after President Joe Biden’s sweeping new vaccine mandates, the Associated Press reported earlier this week.

In Los Angeles, an estimated 2,600 L.A. Police Department employees cited religious objections to try to get out of the required COVID-19 vaccination.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti warned those seeking exemptions that the city “will not tolerate the abuse of these exemptions by those who simply don’t want to get vaccinated.”

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